Official Hegemony and Contesting Pluralisms

By Jimmy Jackson,2014-03-01 08:25
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Official Hegemony and Contesting Pluralisms

Official Hegemony and Contesting Pluralisms

Shiv Visvanathan


    Current attempts to map the Center-Periphery models in anthropology must be sensitive to the problems of intellectual production. Center and periphery are no longer frozen geographies but have been rendered fluid by the protean nature of diasporic flows. Yet a scholar working in the periphery might be caught in a time warp. When world revolutions are announced at the center, he feels like Rip Van Winkle, a belated entrant into an already established issue. If you mention world anthropology in India in recent times you are referred to Veena Das‟ monumental Oxford Companion to Sociology and Social

     It is a fascinating effort to compile a set of texts to create a Anthropology (Das 2003).

    textbook, to evolve a consensus both Indian and diasporic about Social Anthropology. It captures the normal science of anthropology at its best. But the trouble with monuments is that they quickly become statues. In criticizing them, you feel like an unofficial sparrow especially when what you conceive as ballet-like movements are caught in frozen positions.

    When you move from discourse to institutions, you have Partha Chatterjee‟s slim but equally magisterial survey of social sciences in India sponsored by the Social Science

     Research Council, New York (Chatterjee 2002).Chatterjee‟s orchestrated effort to


    understand the institutional structure of social science is a superbly cosmopolitan work and is bound to affect policy and syllabi in the years to come.

     Yet the problem of center and periphery is caught in the nature of the above two books. The first editor teaches at Johns Hopkins, the other serves every year at Columbia University. Both are sensitive people and yet neither meditates on their location, on their particular modes of intellectual production. Chatterjee‟s monograph could easily be entitled „Key Clubs in the social sciences‟ as it is so incestuous in collecting information.

     The irony of the center periphery reflection is that this very problematic might be

    inherited and even marginal reflections could actually represent the virtual marginality of floating professionals in a globalized world. What do you do when your problem and your problematic is itself a creation of the center? What do you add when there are already major reflections; one insisting it is a handbook and the other already occupying space as a policy statement?

     One can‟t bowdlerize these efforts. These are outstanding intellectual maps but when you talk of the territories of the mind you can invent a different geography, a wishful space closer to one‟s own autobiography.

     Anthropology is in many ways a dissenting and eccentric imagination, a subject perpetually quarreling with itself. What one hopes to do is to look at „world anthropology‟ and „the politics of center and periphery‟ through these dissenting lenses and their relation to the official. Within such a view, center and periphery become not a reified anthropology of pre- emptive futures, but a continuously shuffling intellectual pack, a circus of epistemologies. What one senses then is not the hegemony of imperial thought, but the


    restlessness of the anthropological mind.What one will try to do is to link the marginal to the radical, dissenting and eccentric imaginations to redraw this cognitive geography.

     Anthropology in India can be read as a series of shifting scenarios. The debate moves over a variety of axes, including the colonial, civilizational, nation- state, civil society and global. Anthropology, within this context, becomes not only an official discourse summoning and inventing certain forms of „foucaultian practice‟ --from the census and the

    survey, to that great colonial creation the gazetteer-- but also a compendium of alternative dreams. Anthropology becomes not only a way of panopticonizing the other but of inventing a variety of playful others. Juxtaposing colonialisms as frames for anthropology, we have the other colonialisms.

     Anthropology in India is confident enough to go beyond the ressentiment of Orientalism to pluralize the colonizing perspective. One has to include within the standard narratives of colonialism the insights of what could be dubbed the other colonialisms. The

    latter were not conventional imperialists reading the colony as a mere, a plantation or even a culture to be museumized. The other colonialists were comparative sociologists at heart. They discerned trends the colonizer had made recessive within himself and treated the colony as a site for the reinvention and recovery of intellectual possibilities in education, town planning, science and politics. Not all British officials saw in India a site to be surveyed and ruled. For many it was a theater for alternative knowledges, experiments that had failed in the West. One thinks of Patrick Geddes, the first professor of sociology in Bombay university who saw in India the possibilities of a post-Germanic University; or the work of Albert Howard who saw in his anthropology of agriculture, a theory of a society based on a different attitude to soils. One can even invoke theosophist anthropology with its


    dreams of childhood working to a new reading of the Boy Scout or the occult child driving new notions of pedagogy for disabled children.

     For many it was a theater for alternative knowledges, experiments that had failed or turned recessive in the West. One must emphasize two separate arguments here. First, the discourse of the other colonialisms modified and created worlds parallel to the official space of colonial anthropology. If official anthropology mimicked the Orientalist enterprise, the other colonialism dialogues and engages with the sociological ideas of the Indian national movement. For every Risley and Hutton, there was a Patrick Geddes or Annie Besant.

     There is a second point to be made here. The affable Orientalism of Blavatsky, Besant and Allan Octavian Hume was met by the hospitality of Indian nationalism. The anthropological confidence of the nationalist movement must be emphasized especially when the nation-state functions like an intellectual corset today. Indian nationalism even while attempting to overthrow the British was always open to eccentric and dissenting imaginations. In fact, Indian nationalism was a fascinating anthropology of the other, an imagination that extended right up to the debates of the constituent assembly functioning under the shadow of the partition. The image of India is that of a compost heap, perpetually chewing ideas and where nothing is lost or eternally defeated. Indian nationalism can be seen as a dialogic framework for world anthropology where Gandhian anthropology of the village contended with the traditionalist aesthetic imaginations of Ananda Coomaraswamy and E.B. Havell or quarreled with the occult anthropology of the theosophists and the

     Leninist vision of scientists dreaming of a society based on the scientific method(Visvanathan 2001; Nandy and Visvanathan: 1997).


     Intellectual historians have often presented these debates as separate intellectual grids when they were the warp and woof of a complex intellectual debate. It was a debate, which systematically quarreled over issues like what is the role of modern Western science in Indian civilization? Can a dialogue of medical systems provide a different frame for policy? Can India construct a post-Germanic university that embodies a different idea of knowledge, but that reflects not just an Indian style but a contribution to world knowledge? The writings of Bernard Cohn and others have emphasized the invention of colonial knowledge from Hinduism to colonial law. They have ignored the parallel circuses of debate that created alternative possibilities for science, urbanism, tradition, technology, architecture and agriculture. To use later terms, if colonialism pretended to be a world system, Indian nationalism projected the possibilities of a world anthropology with its ideas of pluralism, diversity and dissent. One need not go as far as Raimundo Pannikar‟s request that we allow pockets of Goa and Pondicherry to remain colonial so we could continuously study the West in us, to sense the power and confidence of this dream. To understand what anthropology is one must follow not the official „dictionary‟ level of discourse, but use the anthropological act as a shifter-- changing meanings as it moves from context to context.

     With the coming of independence, anthropology as an epistemic circus became more domesticated into a garden, more disciplinary, yet it was still full of memories of another world of debates.



    The debates that began with independence centered around a simple question. Is sociology a discourse of, and oriented at, the national state or can it mediate between civilization and nation? Is sociology possible in a civilization sense? Can one create a universalist sociology or is sociology a particularistic exercise tied to certain unique institutions? Are sociological categories unique, universal and translatable?

     There are three sets of responses, each a fascinating way of redefining the problem. Each answer hyphenates sociology to a different subject suggesting that in the hyphen or the hybrid may lie the answer to the question. The first and the most publicized answer is that of the French indologist Louis Dumont who still stands larger than life on the Indian scene. Dumont argued that the possibility of a sociology of India lay in a closer cooperation between Indology and social anthropology. The Dumontian problematic dominated Indian sociology and triggered one of the most cosmopolitan debates on “For a Sociology of India’.

    In fact, the journal that Dumont and Pocock established, Contributions to Indian Sociology

    became the dominant journal displacing both the more quotidian Sociological Bulletin and

    the more regional The Eastern Anthropologist. The debates on “For a sociology of India”

    constitute one of the most fascinating archives on the possibility of a world anthropology, but the terms of the debate and its „official„ memory marginalizes two other fascinating

    answers to the debate. Both these answers came from the most intellectualist school of the time and both have been marginalized or forgotten. The style and debates of the Lucknow school must be recovered and we shall do it in two stages. In the first part we will outline the works of D.P. Mukherjee and Radhakamal Mukherjee and then elaborate the arguments of A.K. Saran. If the first two sociologists attempt to exorcize and translate the vision of Marx


    and economics as a sociological enterprise, the third carried a guerilla war with modernity

     and the dreams of a universalistic western sociology (Madan 1994; Joshi 1986; Gupta 1974).

     The Lucknow school of economics and sociology had a holistic view of sociology. In fact the very boundary management between economics, sociology and political science of today has confined them to oblivion for they were to use Albert Hirschman„s terms virtually „essays in trespassing‟. The Lucknow school is remembered today for its three musketeers Radhakamal Mukherjee, D.P. Mukherjee and D.N. Majumdar. Saran, younger in years, could be seen as the spiritual Dartangan.

     The roots of the Lucknow school lie deep in the anti- colonial national awakening exploding out of the Bengal renaissance as a literary and political outpouring. The Lucknow vision saw social science as a theater and a site of an imagination for a society struggling for national emancipation and against backwardness and poverty. Tacitly it was concerned with how Indian civilization and community responded to the nationalist project of planned development. Its founder Radhakamal Mukherjee noted:

     History was prized by me at the beginning of my educational career as a

    systematic study for the necessity of the glory of India but face to face

    contact with the misery, squalor and degradation of the slums of Calcutta

    decided my future interest in Economics and Sociology…. Ricardo, Mill,

    Marshall, Walker, Carver were not concerned with the problems of poverty at

    all but did not these current textbooks of economics formulate certain

    problems that required understanding and interpretation in order to analyze

    and alleviate Indian poverty? (qtd in Joshi 1986: 8)


    What Mukherjee tried to create at Lucknow was a sociology as an institutional economics appropriate to Indian society. As a sociologist of Indian culture, Mukherjee argued that “the

    postulates of Western economics were entirely different from those that could be deduced from a realistic study of Indian economic life”(ibid:11). In fact Mahatma Gandhi approved of Mukherjee‟s ideas as early as 1917. Citing Mukherjee with approval Gandhi observed

    “ that the principles of Western economics could not be applied to Indian conditions in the same way as the rules of grammar and syntax of one language could not be applicable to

     (ibid:11). another language”

    But the Indian nation state was committed to planned development. Mukherjee articulated a sociology, which provided a civilizational ecological view, which was an antidote to the Euro- centric approach to Indian Economics. Present in the strategy of the Lucknow school were two approaches to sociology as a reinventing of economics. The first was what P.C. Joshi in his fond memoirs calls and „Asian Exceptionalism‟ a conviction that „ we can no more alter the economic institution of a country than its language and thoughts‟ (ibid: 16) The second was a vision of socialist transformation oriented to Asian conditions. The latter struggle was articulated in the life and ideas of D.P.Mukherjee, R.K. Mukherjee‟s colleague. Joshi mentions the difference in styles between the two. If Radhakamal was austere and simple, D.P. Mukherjee was the pleasure loving cosmopolitan who loved food, cigarettes and ideas, a coffee house intellectual who loved addas and was an authority on


     D.P.Mukherjee was a quintessential Indian intellectual who saw in independence a challenge to the intellectual. He observed “ the French dared in 1789, the English n 1683, the Germans in 1848 and the Russians in 1917. For the first time in several centuries, India


     (ibid: 20). For D.P. the issue was how does a civilization dare to change has a chance to dare”

    with its blends of tradition and modernity? Sociology to him was a collective biography of this exercise, a challenge made particularly acute because of its affinity to Marxism. Marxism was a dream of a world transformative anthropology. The question was could it blend with Indian civilization?

     D.P. felt that Indian Marxists must induce a creative encounter with Indian civilization and in fact he quoted Marx as saying “ the deeper you go down to the roots, the more radical you become”. In his „Man and Plan in India‟ D. P.Mukherjee wrote that:

    Marxism has to creatively mediate between the western values and Indian

    tradition. Thus it is that two systems of data are to be worked out. One is the

    plan with its basic western values in experimentation, rationalism, social

    accounting and in further western values centering in or emerging out, of

    bureaucratization, industrialization, technology and increasing urbanization.

    The other is not so much the Indian traditions as India‟s forces of

    conservation and powers of assimilation. At present they are not sharply

    posed. If anything the first datum is gradually becoming ascendant…. The

    second requisite is social action to push on with the plan and to push it

    consciously, deliberately, collectively into the next historical phase. The

    value of Indian traditions lies in the ability of their conserving forces to put a

    brake on hasty passage. Adjustment is the end product of the dialectical

    connection between the two.” (ibid: 22)

    D.P. realized that Marxism was the most powerful critique of capitalism but felt that while it was powerful as the critique of exploitation, it was incomplete as a theory of value. What


Marxism needed was a “spiritual restlessness”, a framework which Gandhi provided.

    Gandhi was opposed to modern technological civilization both as a theory of greed and need. In the first place he was convinced that the increasing and large-scale use of machinery was an engine of exploitation. And in the second place, he was opposed to technology because it represented the negation of normal social order, which in Gandhi‟s view was based on the principle of wantlessness and non-possessiveness. D.P. felt that it was this that Marxism lacked because it rejected spiritual norms based on wantlessness, or a code of conduct founded on self-control and prayer.

     There was a second and even more profound difficulty, a problem D.P. could not solve. It dealt with time, and as critics like Saran and Dumont have pointed out, it was something he struggled futilely against. D.P. pleaded poetically for “a concept of time that will not move along one direction, that will not be cyclical. It will be neither the Greenwich time nor the twinkle of Brahma‟s eye. He hoped that with this change from transcendental to

    human time philosophy will become one with history.” But as the ruthless Saran noted,”the

    new concept of time proposed by him is a little too eclectic, not to say elastic”. It was difficult to imagine how DP visualized a non- universalistic time which was also non- cyclical. The imperious Dumont also noted it as the unresolved problem in DP‟s sociology. He points out “one‟s recognition of the absence of the individual in traditional India obliges one to admit with others that India has no history for history and the individual are inseparable; it follows that „ Indian civilization is unhistorical by definition” (qtd in Madan 1994:16).

     D.P.‟s life, like his anthropology, remained „a series of reluctances‟. Saran notes that the three world notes that beckoned to him vendanta, Western Liberalism and Marxism did


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